OP­ER­A­TIONS

GQ (Australia) - - CHAMPION -

POSTCARDS FROM THE AS­TRO­NAUTS’ LOUNGE, CON­TIN­UED FROM P115.

a smaller tur­tle-shaped build­ing about half a kilo­me­tre from the hangar and space lounge. Bleth leads us in­side to the re­cep­tion­ist’s desk, but there’s no re­cep­tion­ist. A glass wall al­lows vis­i­tors to see the row of mon­i­tors where op­er­a­tions per­son­nel work. But no one’s sit­ting at them. There’s only a sign taped to the door by the cur­rent ten­ant, a com­pany that is leas­ing the space and pre­par­ing for a mis­sion Bleth can’t tell us about: Acme Co. No­tice: Au­tho­rised Per­son­nel Only And then there’s an il­lus­tra­tion of Wile E Coy­ote, look­ing all cocky. Most of the time, Bleth says, Space­port is not in use. Com­pa­nies other than Vir­gin some­times lease the fa­cil­i­ties to launch rock­ets or other things that go high into the sky. But a lot of the time, it’s like to­day: empty. This is a fea­ture, not a bug, Bleth says. “Here, you get the best of both worlds. We are gov­ern­ment-owned, pri­vate-en­ter­prise­leased. Un­like NASA, we can bring in re­sources for each project,” he says. “We ex­pand and con­tract as needed.” There’s one last stop on the tour. Bleth leads us through a door and into a garage with… fire trucks. These, at least, are not mock-ups. I think back to a video con­sole I saw in the main build­ing. It played a con­tin­u­ous loop of ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties at Space­port: brush clearer, gen­eral main­te­nance tech­ni­cian, fire­fighter. (There were no list­ings for as­tro­nauts.) We all stand around, tak­ing pho­tos of the fire trucks. The only per­son who re­ally seems im­pressed is a five-year-old boy. We get back on the bus for the trip home and an on­board video about the fu­ture of Space­port. Bleth tells us that af­ter the video’s over he’s go­ing to give us “quiet time, to con­tem­plate,” and that he’d like all of us to close our eyes and “imag­ine what Space­port and the sec­ond space age means for you, your chil­dren and grand­chil­dren.” He pauses. “And,” he adds, “just like Ham the space mon­key got ba­nana pel­lets for cor­rectly per­form­ing his tasks, I have an in­cen­tive for you all: ched­darcheese crack­ers.” He holds up a wicker bas­ket with generic Twisties and passes it around. I close my eyes. I hate Twisties. Driv­ing back to my ho­tel across the empty land­scape, it’s hard not to be de­pressed. I just spent two hours at the place that’s sup­posed to make us all pi­o­neers in the sec­ond space age, and all I can think is that it’s a con­coc­tion wor­thy of North Korea. That if I leaned on a wall, I might dis­cover that it’s only card­board and my hand might crash through it. That ev­ery­thing there is ei­ther hol­low or dan­ger­ous. And that ACME/ Wile E Coy­ote sign taped to the doors? The me­taphor is ir­re­sistible: Maybe Richard Bran­son is Road Run­ner, and we are all Wile E Coy­ote, think­ing we have just been de­liv­ered a beau­ti­ful gift, but in­stead we open the box and dis­cover we are hold­ing a bomb. Boom. Blink-blink. Space. It’s a funny thing.

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